In an IOC first, a Refugee Olympic Team, consisting of 10 athletes who fled their native countries due to war and persecution, will compete at the summer games in Rio. So, now you’ve got 10 more people to root for.
The IOC announced the composition of the team today, in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and described their participation in symbolic terms—the release said they will “act as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide and bring global attention to the magnitude of the refugee crisis.”
But for the athletes themselves, this is a very practical thing: without a country to represent, and without funding, they would never have been able to compete at all. Now they have a team, and a uniform, and housing, and a flag and an anthem and a place in the opening ceremony:
IOC President Thomas Bach said: “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the word. The Olympic anthem will be played in their honour and the Olympic flag will lead them into the Olympic Stadium.”
The 10 athletes are:
- Yusra Mardini, Syria, 200m butterfly swimmer. Mardini fled the Syrian Civil War in 2015, taking a small inflatable boat to Greece. At one point Mardini slipped into the water to help push the vessel when it began taking on water. Lives and trains in Germany.
- Rami Anis, Syria, 100m butterfly swimmer. Anis’s family sent him to Turkey when the war broke out, and from there he rode an inflatable raft to Greece. He eventually made his way to Belgium, where he lives and trains.
- Yolande Mabika, Democratic Republic of the Congo, middleweight judoka. Mabika was separated from her family by fighting in that country’s civil war. She was too young to remember anything but being taken by helicopter to Kinshasa, where she was raised in a center for displaced children. In 2013, she and fellow DRC judoka Popole Misenga sought asylum in Brazil when they traveled there for the world championships.
- Popole Misenga, Democratic Republic of the Congo, middleweight judoka. Misenga was nine years old when the civil war separated him from his family, and he spent eight days alone wandering the forest before being taken to Kinshasa. Lives and trains in Brazil.
- James Nyang Chiengjiek, South Sudan, 800m runner. Fled his home to avoid being recruited as a child soldier in the Sudanese Civil War. Arrived in Kenya as a refugee, where he now lives and trains.
- Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, South Sudan, 1,500m runner. When she was six years old, Lohalith was taken by an aunt to a Kenyan refugee camp to escape the war in southern Sudan. She hasn’t seen her parents since, though she says she’s heard they are still alive.
- Yiech Pur Biel, South Sudan, 800m runner. Fled the war in southern Sudan as a 10-year-old and ended up at a refugee camp in Kenya. Had no formal athletic training until he took part in an open trial last year.
- Paulo Amotun Lokoro, South Sudan, 1,500m runner. A cattle farmer, Lokoro fled the fighting in southern Sudan in 2006 to join his mother in Kenya.
- Rose Nathike Lokonyen, South Sudan, 800m runner. As a 9-year-old Lokonyen’s family escaped the war and settled at a refugee camp in Kenya. Her parents returned to South Sudan in 2008 but Lokonyen remained to live and train.
- Yonas Kinde, Ethiopia, marathoner. Kinde received asylum in Luxembourg in 2013, though he doesn’t want to share details on why he fled Ethiopa. “It’s impossible for me to live there, he said. “It’s very dangerous for my life.”
This will not be the first time athletes have competed under the Olympic flag, though previous independent athletes have usually done so because their young nations had not established Olympic committees yet.
You can learn more about the Refugee Olympic Team members from these videos produced by the UN’s refugee agency.